[Review written for Toon Zone News: 05-13-2006
Final Fantasy: Advent Children—it's been a long time coming. Finally, the fantasy has become reality. It's here.
Excuse the awesomely pretentious introduction, but I must confess, I am a massive fan of Final Fantasy VII and I never believed we’d ever get to see a sequel. Nevertheless, please don't let these trembling hands holding this DVD case put you off; making any product for an already blooming fan audience can be as much a curse as a blessing.
In over twenty-five years of game playing, I rank the seventh adventure in Square's Final Fantasy Video RPG series as the best game experience I've ever had.
And I've had a few.
For those who live akin to a severed head until eighteen inches of solid metal, let me explain a little of the background to this release.
Final Fantasy VII was the first 3D RPG adventure in the Final Fantasy series. Its shift from its long term home at Nintendo to Sony’s new spangled Playstation was controversial with fans. Square felt the Playstation would give them more technical scope to fulfill their project. On top of that, the Playstation opened up Final Fantasy to a whole new market. Final Fantasy VII was a mainstream success. Role Playing Games were suddenly cool. Well, cooler than they used to be.
The game was a brilliant mix of intricate plot, likeable characters and a solidly paced story, all wrapped around a game packed with turn based battles and a multitude of sub adventures. While the story was extremely linear, there were enough secrets, twists, subplots and extra characters to make the game feel as if the whole Final Fantasy world was open to the player.
And this was Advent Children’s biggest hurdle.
How could Final Fantasy: Advent Children live up to a sixty plus hour interactive game experience? How could the DVD film release appeal to a mainstream and fan market, broadly separated out by a video experience that lasted for over three solid days? Appeasing the fans without confusing the casual watcher would require a stroke of genius.
And more or less, that's what you have. By magic, this film pulls a rabbit out of the hat for the mainstream market and a Moogle for the fans.
The story is set two years after the events of the 1997 hit game. Without even attempting to explain the end of the game—a controversy that fans worldwide have been chewing each other out for many years—SquareEnix brings the characters back in a movie where humanity is on the brink of a new age. The days of industry choking the planet of its life essence are long gone. The mighty villain Sephiroth was defeated at the hands of our dysfunctional band of heroes lead by Cloud Strife and humanity is still picking up the pieces.
But things aren't all good. There is a disease called Geostigma attacking the population that is intrinsically linked to the event of two years past. There is a new band of silver haired youngsters, powerful and focused, with an agenda against the planet as well as its people. In-between these two mighty threats to mankind, there is Cloud Strife, warrior-come-angst-filled delivery boy struggling to accept his place in the world.
So how does it all come together in two hours? Pretty well. As a sequel to a complicated story, I didn't think there would be any attempts to try and explain the premise to new audiences, yet the introduction does a fairly good job of this.
The plot and the story remains fairly firmly fixed around Cloud rather than the whole Final Fantasy VII crew. This was probably a wise decision since there is so much potential backstory to each character and their relationships to each other. The film decides discretion is the better part of valour and keeps the show very Cloud orientated.
This may disappoint some fans, eager to see what Cid is up to now or what mischief Yuffie's been creating, but from a cinematic perspective, this was a wise call. This is a film after all, and the production has gone to great lengths to make sure that it works just as that.
That's not to say it isn't fan friendly—far from it. The crew does all make an appearance, as do the massively popular Turks, specifically Rude and Reno. These two Turks are used primarily for comic relief and thereby pop up fairly frequently. It's astounding how these two guys have become so popular with fans. In fact, Reno and Rude actually get more screen time than Barret or Cid.
To the fan boys’ delight, a host of motifs, visual and aural, from the game have been woven into the plot. Some are obvious, and some not so. For instance, the victory theme pops up as a cell phone ring at the end of one skirmish. On a superficial level, the production hasn't forgotten to keep tickling their fans.
For fans, the beauty of this film is that it does indeed answer some questions, but doesn't attempt to answer all of them. In the Final Fantasy VII video game, there wasn't just a great deal open to interpretation, some events were based solely on what the player did. As such, the interpretation of the characters can differ from game to game. As an example, there is a great debate among fans as to whom Cloud was in love with—if he was in love at all. The choices made in the game do generate a slightly different angle on the character relationships. Was Cloud in love with Tifa, his childhood sweetheart, or was it Aerith, the pretty little flower girl he encountered? In Final Fantasy: Advent Children, it's left as an ambiguous subject and wisely so considering the fervent loyalty of fans to both Tifa and Aerith. In reference to this, there is a line uttered by Cloud that seems as much aimed at fans as it was the villain. He points out that doesn’t have to choose who he cares for, because in fact, he cares for all.
So this cautious simplicity to the film's background works in its favour. It doesn’t try and be the game that spawned it. It doesn't try and adopt the same depth and complexity the game had room to create. Nevertheless, Advent Children does carry on the themes of self-enlightenment, friendship and guilt—just as the game did. It has the flavour of the Final Fantasy VII world as it attempts to mimic the audience's experiences.
The music, of course, is a fan must, with Final Fantasy VII composer Nobuo Uematsu back at the helm. For Final Fantasy: Advent Children, there is a mix of music old and new. Some of the fan favourites have been rearranged and some new original pieces have been included. You'll find a mix of subtle motifs and ‘in your face’ riffs that are bound to bring more than a few waves of nostalgia for fans. I'm still not sure the new arrangement of “One Winged Angel” is quite as successful a hybrid of classic and rock that the composer himself believes, but it still remains a deeply enjoyable aural experience when accompanied by the film’s stunning visuals.
I must say I had no problem with the overall US vocal dub. It was tight enough and the vocal performances fit the characters—or at least as to how I envisaged them. While I always prefer a subtitled film to a dubbed one, it's quite worth running the dub track just so you can spend the time gazing at the amazing visuals rather than reading the subtitles.
Yes, the visuals are superb. It sits deftly on the line between looking real and looking animated. That was the film’s intent and that’s its success. I could wax on about the visuals but I think it's both in your interest and my own type worn fingers if you just go and watch one of the trailers from the official site.
Are there any grumbles? Well naturally, nothing is perfect. The final battle is too long with no breaks and there could have been a little more character interplay in the second half. Occasionally the script gives way to the eye candy and one feels there could have been perhaps a slightly stronger balance.
Personally, and probably a lot to ask, I would liked to have seen a little more outside Midgar and its new boundary town, the Edge. Final Fantasy VII was about exploration, and a little more traveling would have been nice. Probably not a practical request, but nevertheless I did feel I was somehow missing out on the rich and broad world Final Fantasy VII had created.
For the casual viewer, I think the story has the right balance of being solid enough to hold the audience’s interest, yet cryptic enough so they will be asking the right questions after the movie. Beyond the story, the action is thick, fast and ludicrous. As you watch some of the heroes fighting, you can't help but be amused by the total disregard of physics. This film puts fun before physics, so far that even the most intense science fan has to give up analysing it and just watch it for the kicks. The only downside is that the mix of battles is a little uneven. More isn’t always better and when there are too many fights, the complexity and rendering is lost as the charm dissipates.
For the more intellectual watcher, there is a fair bit of symbolism and as with the best stories, the audience isn't spoon-fed. Western films do have a tendency to explain every plot point; as if the production has to justify every single plot point to its audience. This trait is not present in Advent Children. There are areas of the story you’ll just have to work out for yourself. Some may call them plot holes, but in my experience, Japanese films seem a little less conscious of having to offer unnecessary explanations to appease picky viewers. Overall, there's enough action, humour and character to make Final Fantasy: Advent Children watchable to all, however, the more you know about the universe of Final Fantasy VII, the richer the experience will be.
The special edition disk isn’t too shabby, but not overly packed. There is a montage of Final Fantasy VII moments on disk one that picks up the many pieces of story from the game. Don’t expect this to help any new viewers—it will simply confuse them further. On disk two there is a fairly long documentary about the making of Advent Children, footage from the Venice film festival, some trailers and eleven deleted scenes. The deleted scenes are more like deleted snippets, mainly from the film’s fight sequences. Aside from a couple of character-based entries, the deleted scenes are rather uninspiring.
In my opinion, the most vital key to this movie's success was how it reflects on the original game. Fans worldwide would have despaired if the film had in anyway rewritten or diluted the original game experience through its new storyline. Fans can rest assured this film plays careful and honest respect to the game while trying to strike out as something different.
How different Advent Children is in context to its cinematic qualities is debatable. Certainly a fun and stunning performance, pushing computer technology to its current limit, but neither its script or flavour offer anything cinematically mind-blowing. . You’ll see elements of The Matrix/Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon around virtually every corner and while the original musical score is intertwined with an interesting mix of rock, the electric guitar qualities to the arrangements are hardly original. Furthermore, I’d be surprised if the story twists genuinely surprised any fans. While the film comes across as well written, it is fairly predictable.
Considering this is very much a fan orientated project, I’m surprised the DVD isn’t jam packed with extras, but this doesn’t stop Final Fantasy: Advent Children from being a worthwhile addition to anyone’s DVD collection. Advent Children is a solid film and it’s good to see a video game make that media translation. While its storyline won’t blow anyone away, it certainly doesn’t disrespect the original premise or damage the film as a whole. The whole production treats Final Fantasy VII with respect and doesn’t come across as a fast buck knock out as some detractors have labeled it. In the end, it’s definitely a positive addition to the world of Final Fantasy VII and certainly a film no Final Fantasy fan can afford to miss.